Hope Dawns Eternal Chapter 1

 

Ten Years Later

 

I’m Lieutenant Jonah McQuarry, and today’s my first day on the set of Sunlight and Shadow. I’ve spent the past decade on Hope Dawns Eternal, but last month the network rang down the final curtain on the show, so this is their last soap standing. Who knows how long we’ll survive?

At least I’m alive for now, fresh from a pep talk with Harvey Blaustein, the head writer. He and Chuck Winslow, the executive producer, brought me here. Or strictly speaking, they brought Mark Westgate, the actor who plays me. They have no idea I’m actually Jonah McQuarry, and I’ve never felt the need to enlighten them. Mark’s a method actor, and few people realize how shy and introverted he really is. Over the years he’s learned to channel me so deeply that by now we’re virtually one and the same. I’m the persona who normally takes control in public, but now and again a little of the real Mark shows through.

Right now, for example. I’m about to shoot my first scene, and I feel like barfing. I’m afraid I’ll forget my lines, my pulse is racing, and I can barely catch my breath. On the verge of a full-blown anxiety attack, I pause in the shadows beyond the set. I close my eyes, unclench my fists, and force myself to take slow, cleansing breaths until the panic subsides. These cowardly feelings aren’t mine, I remind myself. They belong to Mark, and I have the power to banish them.

This is why I asked Harvey for that one-on-one to help screw up my confidence. He jogged my memory about the way I strolled into town my first day on Hope Dawns Eternal, dressed in black, cool and collected like Clint Eastwood in an early spaghetti western. No one does the mysterious stranger better, he said. Piece of cake – you can nail it.

Okay, so here goes. My heart pounding, I amble from backstage dimness into the blazingly bright interior of a police station set. It’s a standard cop shop, with beige walls and gunmetal gray furniture that looks a couple of decades older than the young officer seated at a standard-issue desk. He’s a good-looking kid, with wavy hair nearly as dark as mine, and his short sleeves show his impressively muscled arms to maximum advantage. He’s peering at a computer monitor, oblivious to my presence. I pad silently up behind him, say “Excuse me.”

He jerks violently, as if zapped by a Taser, and whirls his chair around.  “I didn’t hear you come in,” he says, trying not entirely successfully to don an impassive cop façade.

“Sorry I startled you.”  Actually I’m not sorry at all. You can learn a lot about people when you catch them unawares. Especially their reflexes, how they handle themselves.

“Can I help you?”

I extract my I.D. from the pocket of my black sports coat and thrust it toward his face. “I’m Lieutenant Jonah McQuarry from the Lindisfarne PD, and I’m looking into some unfinished business here – a case that went cold a few years ago.”

“You’re a little out of your jurisdiction, aren’t you? That’s Connecticut, and this is New York.”

“No kidding. Thanks for telling me.”

His expression hardens. Maybe I should cool it with the sarcasm – I’m not used to pulling it off. The showrunners tweaked my personality slightly when they brought me to Sunlight and Shadow. Harvey said I’ll be a little edgier, more outgoing, than I was back in Lindisfarne. I may even get to smile and laugh once in a while. Sounds good, but it’ll take some getting used to.

“I don’t want to waste your time, so I’ll cut right to the chase,” I say. “I’m looking for a guy named Tony Giordano.”

The cop tilts back in his swivel chair and clasps his hands behind his head, the better to display his impressive physique. He shoots me a glare with his dark chocolate eyes. “What do you want with him?”

“You sound defensive. That name seems to key you in.”

“I guess you could say that.” He rises, extends his hand for a shake, and I realize he’s a few inches shorter than me. A good thing, because he’s far more muscular, but my height gives me an advantage.

“I’m Detective Chris Giordano,” he says. “Tony Giordano is my father.”

“How about that! I guess the apple rolled quite a way from the tree. A detective who’s the son of a low-level mobster.”

“You’d better watch it. Don’t go badmouthing my old man. He’s in the construction business, and the rumors that he’s a mobster are nothing but fantasy.”

I shrug and shoot him the suggestion of a smirk. “Hey, whatever you say.”

He clenches his jaw and his fingers twitch, on the verge of becoming fists. I realize I’d better cool it. “Sorry, maybe we got off on the wrong foot.” I mean this sincerely, because I’m still adapting to my newfound edginess. Being constantly taciturn was getting old, and now apparently I’m turning into an outspoken smart ass. I kind of like the new me, but it’s still a bit of a stretch.

I flash him a conciliatory smile. It feels phony – my smiles used to be few and far between. “Could you tell me where to find him?”

“You might catch him over at St. Andrew’s Church. He was planning to go to a funeral there.”

If this were a novel or a feature film, I’d drive to the church, one of those pseudo-Gothic piles of gray stone at least a century old, then catch sight of the funeral cortege heading off down the street, bound for the cemetery. I could catch them easily, fall in at the rear of the procession, but something about the church, the dimness beyond the open doors, might beckon me. I’d brake and pull over – but no, I’m not going there. Literally, because soaps rarely use location shots, and people are never shown driving unless something dire is about to happen – usually a fatal crash.

Instead, we’ll skip a couple of hours and cut to the interior of the church, which for a change is actually a genuine location, an old deconsecrated church a couple of blocks from the studio on Manhattan’s west side, in the trendy neighborhood known as Chelsea. As I step inside, a sepulchral chill envelops me, strangely refreshing after the unnatural heat of the April day. No sign of Tony Giordano – I’ve obviously missed the funeral, and he’s probably en route to the cemetery. The cavernous space is deserted but for the lone figure in a pew near the front. Her shoulders are hunched, her head bowed in prayer. She’s swathed in black, like a mourning widow in an Italian cathedral. I pad silently in my black sneakers past the guttering red votive candles and up the aisle past the rows of empty pews. As I draw close, something about the long black hair that cascades luxuriously down her back seems strangely familiar.

“Excuse me, Miss,” I say softly. “I wonder if you can help me.” She whirls in fright, stares at me wild-eyed. “My god, you scared me half to death. I didn’t hear you coming.”

She’s younger than I’d expected, and yet her brown eyes have the depth of an old soul about them. “I’m sorry,” I tell her. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Her eyes widen. “Don’t I know you from somewhere? There’s something about your voice, your eyes – I could swear we’ve met before.”

A lurching sensation deep in my gut tells me she may be right. “I feel that way too,” I say, “but I’ll be damned if I can remember where or when.”

To my amazement, she breaks into song. “‘The smile you were smiling, you were smiling then’ – don’t you just love Rodgers and Hart?”

I wrack my brain, but I draw a blank. “I guess they’re from before my time.”

“They were popular long before you were born. I wouldn’t expect you to know them.”

“Anyway, you’ve got a fabulous voice,” I say.

“Thanks. Deep down, I’ve always wanted to be a cabaret singer. I love all those old chestnuts from the Great American Song Book.”

“You’d be great. I can picture you lounging against a piano at the Algonquin or the Carlyle. My musical tastes don’t go back that far, but do you remember that old Dionne Warwick song “Déjà vu?”

“You mean Whitney Houston’s aunt? The one who was all over the media after Whitney died?”

“Yeah, that’s the one. Back in the day, she made some fantastic records – especially the Bacharach and David songs like ‘Walk On By.’”

“Oh, right. Now I remember.”

“Cut!” We both jump at the sound of the director’s shout.

Harvey shuffles into the scene. “Hey, guys, you really nailed it at the beginning. The element of surprise and wonder was great, but then you wandered way off script after the ‘where or when.’ Catherine, you’ve got a great voice, and maybe we can use that talent sometime in the future, but Abby has never sung on the show, and this scene is hardly the time to start. And all that name dropping – singers, composers, hotels – would go over most peoples’ heads. Of course I get the references, but most viewers in the heartland wouldn’t, and that would turn them off big-time. Besides, the legal department would probably pitch a fit and make us get all kinds of clearances.”

She blushes. “I totally understand, Harvey. I’m sorry, I don’t know what got into me.”

“Let’s take it from the top,” the director says. “We may be able to use part of that first take, but let’s start from the beginning again, just in case. And this time please stick to the script. Mark, I’ll need you to go back and walk up the aisle again.”

And so I do. This time we both follow the script we’d memorized last night, before we met face to face. Midway through, I lean in close, gaze into her luminous brown eyes. “Maybe we knew each other in a former lifetime.”

Her lips part and her eyes glow brighter. “You mean like reincarnation? Do you believe in that kind of thing?”

“Not really. But thanks to you, I have a feeling I may change my mind.”

“I don’t even know your name.”

“I’m Jonah. Jonah McQuarry.”

“Are you new in town?”

“Yes. What about you? What’s your name?”

“Abby Hastings.”

“Abby. Is that short for Abigail?”

She nods wordlessly, her luminous brown eyes aglow.

“I love the name Abigail. It has an old-fashioned ring to it.”

A blush creeps up her neck, and all at once her eyes grow moist with unshed tears.

“What’s the matter?” I murmur. “Did I say something that upset you?”

Her blush deepens, proof positive that she’s finding my presence upsetting. Our proximity is stirring unexpected feelings in me as well. “No, it’s nothing you said,” she replies. “I’m upset about my husband.”

Looking down, noticing her ring for the first time, I feel a sharp stab of jealousy. “What about your husband?” I say.

“Our marriage has hit a rocky patch, and all because I lied to him, or rather withheld information, about something that was really important. He hates it when I’m not upfront with him.”

“I can relate. I was in a similar situation with my wife. She lied to me about the paternity of our son. She thought it was for my own good, but I was really steamed. It felt as if she was driving a stake through my heart.”

She gasps, and her eyes widen as she stares into mine. Suddenly I’m shaking. My vision clouds, then goes black. Something about that word, stake . . .

“Are you okay?” she asks.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

“You don’t look fine. You look as pale as a ghost.”

“I’m okay, honestly. I just kind of lost it there for a minute. That’s been happening a lot lately, I don’t know why.”

She gazes at me, her eyes alight with concern. “Lost it? How do you mean?”

We’re getting in too deep, too fast, and I have to back off. “I’d rather not talk about it,” I mutter.

“So,” she says. “Have you split with your wife?”

“No. It took time, but we worked it out and got back together. We’ve got a fabulous son – want to see his picture?” I pull his picture from my wallet and hand it to her across the back of the pew.

“What an adorable baby! You must be very happy.”

I long to tell her that I’m glad they’re both out of the picture, but I suppress the impulse. Nevertheless, I’m feeling suddenly befuddled, and I wander off script again. “We were resolving our differences, till the writers sent my wife and child off to California and made me pull up stakes – oops, there’s that word again, stakes. It makes me feel queasy. Or maybe I’m just hungry. I could use a good sirloin, or a T-bone, blood rare, with the juices dripping.” I feel a sudden rush of adrenaline. “Hey, that reminds me – are there any good steakhouses nearby? How would you like to join me for dinner?”

“Thanks, but I really should go home and see if Mick has come back. By the way, you never told me what you were doing in town.”

“I’m looking for a guy named Tony Giordano. His son the cop told me I might find him here.”

Abby’s blush fades to a strange pallor. “What do you want with Tony?”

“I haven’t seen him for years, but we’ve got some unfinished business.”

“Cut,” the director yells. “Okay, that’s a wrap.”

I’ve blown my lines again, and he knows it. “Don’t you want to do another take?” I ask.

“No, we’ve got what we need. You got a little off track, but we can fix that in the editing. Considering it’s your first scene together, you guys had amazing chemistry. I don’t want to lose that spontaneity. You generated a lot of heat, and the fans will love it.”

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